A big lie (German: große Lüge; often the big lie) is a propaganda technique used for political purposes, defined as "a gross distortion or misrepresentation of the facts, especially when used as a propaganda device by a politician or official body". The German expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kampf, to describe the use of a lie so "colossal" that no one would believe that someone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously". Hitler believed the technique was used by Jews to blame Germany's loss in World War I on German general Erich Ludendorff, who was a prominent nationalist political leader in the Weimar Republic. Historian Jeffrey Herf says the idea of the original big lie was instrumental in turning sentiment against Jews and bringing about the Holocaust.
Herf maintains that Joseph Goebbels and the Nazi Party have themselves made use of the big lie they theorized about to turn long-standing antisemitism in Europe into mass murder. He further argues that the big lie was a narrative of an innocent, besieged Germany striking back at an "international Jewry", which it said started World War I. The propaganda repeated over and over the claim that Jews held power behind the scenes in Britain, Russia and the United States. It went on to say the Jews had begun a "war of extermination" against Germany, and so Germany had a duty and a right to "annihilate" the Jews in self-defense.
The New York Times contributor Edwin James asserts that the revisionist claim that Germany was not defeated in war in 1918, and rather was betrayed by internal groups, was itself called a big lie. This stab-in-the-back myth was spread by extreme right-wing groups, including the Nazis.
In the 21st century, the term was applied to Donald Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election. "The big lie" in this instance was the false claim that the election was stolen from him through massive fraud.
But it remained for the Jews, with their unqualified capacity for falsehood, and their fighting comrades, the Marxists, to impute responsibility for the downfall precisely to the man who alone had shown a superhuman will and energy in his effort to prevent the catastrophe which he had foreseen and to save the nation from that hour of complete overthrow and shame. By placing responsibility for the loss of the world war on the shoulders of Ludendorff they took away the weapon of moral right from the only adversary dangerous enough to be likely to succeed in bringing the betrayers of the Fatherland to Justice.
All this was inspired by the principle – which is quite true within itself – that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.
It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X
The Cold War historian Zachary Jonathan Jacobson describes its use:
Adolf Hitler first defined the Big Lie as a deviant tool wielded by Viennese Jews to discredit the Germans' deportment in World War I. Yet, in tragically ironic fashion, it was Hitler and his Nazi regime that actually employed the mendacious strategy. In an effort to rewrite history and blame European Jews for Germany's defeat in World War I, Hitler and his propaganda minister accused them of profiting from the war, consorting with foreign powers and "war shirking" (avoiding conscription). Jews, Hitler contended, were the weak underbelly of the Weimer state that exposed the loyal and true German population to catastrophic collapse. To sell this narrative, Joseph Goebbels insisted "all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands. In short, Nazi fascism hinged on creating one streamlined, overarching lie ... the Nazis built an ideology on a fiction, the notion that Germany's defeat in World War I could be avenged (and reversed) by purging the German population of those purportedly responsible: the Jews."
Joseph Goebbels put forth a theory which has come to be more commonly associated with the expression "big lie". Goebbels wrote the following paragraph in an article dated 12 January 1941, sixteen years after Hitler first used the phrase. The article, titled Aus Churchills Lügenfabrik (English: "From Churchill's Lie Factory") was published in Die Zeit ohne Beispiel.
The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.
The following supposed quotation of Joseph Goebbels has been repeated in numerous books and articles and on thousands of web pages, yet none of them has cited a primary source. According to the research and reasoning of Randall Bytwerk, it is an unlikely thing for Goebbels to have said:
If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.
U.S. psychological profile of HitlerEdit
His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it. (CIA)
The above quote appears in the report, A Psychological Analysis of Adolph Hitler: His Life and Legend, by Walter C. Langer, which is available from the US National Archives. A somewhat similar quote appears in Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler: With Predictions of His Future Behaviour and Suggestions for Dealing with Him Now and After Germany's Surrender, by Henry A. Murray, October 1943:
Never to admit a fault or wrong; never to accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time; blame that enemy for everything that goes wrong; take advantage of every opportunity to raise a political whirlwind.
Trump's claim of a stolen electionEdit
To support his attempts to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election, President Donald Trump and his allies repeatedly and falsely claimed there had been massive election fraud and that Trump had really won the election. U.S. Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz subsequently contested the election results in the Senate. Their effort was characterized as "the big lie" by President-elect Joe Biden: "I think the American public has a real good, clear look at who they are", Biden said two days after the Capitol was attacked. "They're part of the big lie, the big lie." Republican senators Mitt Romney and Pat Toomey, scholars of fascism Timothy Snyder and Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Russian affairs expert Fiona Hill, and others have also used the term big lie to refer to Donald Trump's false claims about massive election fraud.
Dominion Voting Systems, who provided voting machines to many jurisdictions in the 2020 election, is seeking $1.3 billion in damages from Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani. In the lawsuit, they allege that "he and his allies manufactured and disseminated the 'Big Lie', which foreseeably went viral and deceived millions of people into believing that Dominion had stolen their votes and fixed the election."
In January and February 2021, The New York Times published a thorough investigation into how Trump promoted "the big lie" for political purposes to subvert the 2020 election, and how that lie encouraged a violent storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
During the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, the house managers Jamie Raskin, Joe Neguse, Joaquin Castro, Stacey Plaskett and Madeleine Dean all used the phrase "the big lie" repeatedly to refer to the notion that the election was stolen, with a total of 16 mentions in the initial presentation alone. "The Big Lie", leading up to and including the election period, formed the first section of the "provocation" part of the argument.
- "The Big Lie | Definition of The Big Lie by Oxford Dictionary on Lexico.com also meaning of The Big Lie". Lexico Dictionaries | English. Retrieved 17 January 2021.
- Jeffrey Herf (2006). The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II And the Holocaust. Harvard University Press. p. 211. ISBN 9780674038592.
- Herf, J. (2005). "The "Jewish War": Goebbels and the Antisemitic Campaigns of the Nazi Propaganda Ministry". Holocaust and Genocide Studies. 19: 51–80. doi:10.1093/hgs/dci003.
- James, Edwin L. (11 April 1943). "Hitler's Biggest Lie; The Fuehrer's lies are legion and colossal; his biggest is that Germany was not beaten in 1918. Hitler may be planning to use that lie again. Whatever Hitler's purpose in taking up the lie of an undefeated Germany, the record of the collapse is clear. Hitler's Biggest Lie". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 December 2020.
- Bittner, Jochen (30 November 2020). "1918 Germany Has a Warning for America – Donald Trump's "Stop the Steal" campaign recalls one of the most disastrous political lies of the 20th century". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 February 2021.
- Higgins, Andrew (10 January 2021). "The Art of the Lie? The Bigger the Better – Lying as a political tool is hardly new. But a readiness, even enthusiasm, to be deceived has become a driving force in politics around the world, most recently in the United States". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 January 2021.
Mr. Trump has outraged his political opponents and left even some of his longtime supporters shaking their heads at his mendacity. In embracing this big lie, however, the president has taken a path that often works – at least in countries without robustly independent legal systems and news media along with other reality checks.
- Rutenberg, Jim; Becker, Jo; Lipton, Eric; Haberman, Maggie; Martin, Jonathan; Rosenberg, Matthew; Schmidt, Michael S. (31 January 2021). "77 Days: Trump's Campaign to Subvert the Election – Hours after the United States voted, the president declared the election a fraud – a lie that unleashed a movement that would shatter democratic norms and upend the peaceful transfer of power". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 February 2021.
- "Mein Kampf". Project Gutenberg. Translated by Murphy, James. 21 March 1939. Archived from the original on 24 July 2008. Retrieved 23 August 2008.
- Jacobson, Zachary Jonathan (21 May 2018). "Many are worried about the return of the 'Big Lie.' They're worried about the wrong thing". Washington Post.
Goebbels, Joseph (12 January 1941). Die Zeit ohne Beispiel. Munich: Zentralverlag der NSDAP. p. 364-369.
Das ist natürlich für die Betroffenen mehr als peinlich. Man soll im allgemeinen seine Führungsgeheimnisse nicht verraten, zumal man nicht weiß, ob und wann man sie noch einmal gut gebrauchen kann. Das haupt-sächlichste englische Führungsgeheimnis ist nun nicht so sehr in einer besonders hervorstechenden Intelligenz als vielmehr in einer manchmal geradezu penetrant wirkenden dummdreisten Dickfelligkeit zu finden. Die Engländer gehen nach dem Prinzip vor, wenn du lügst, dann lüge gründlich, und vor allem bleibe bei dem, was du gelogen hast! Sie bleiben also bei ihren Schwindeleien, selbst auf die Gefahr hin, sich damit lächerlich zu machen.
- Bytwerk, Randall (2008). "False Nazi Quotations". German Propaganda Archive. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
- Langer, Walter C. (1943–1944). "A Psychological Analysis of Adolph Hitler. His Life and Legend". Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Washington, D.C. p. 219. Archived from the original on 28 August 2005 – via Nizkor.
With the collaboration of Prof. Henry A. Murr, Harvard Psychological Clinic, Dr. Ernst Kris, New School for Social Research, Dr. Bertram D. Lawin, New York Psychoanalytic Institute.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link) CS1 maint: date format (link)
- "OSS Psychological Profile of Hitler, page 46" (PDF). cia.gov. Retrieved 17 June 2018.
- "A Psychological Profile of Adolf Hitler" (PDF). Ia801304.us.archive.org. Retrieved 17 January 2018.
- Langer, Walter (24 March 2011). A Psychological Analysis of Adolf Hitler: His Life and Legend. All-about-psychology.com. p. 57.
- "Analysis of the Personality of Adolf Hitler" (PDF). Ia601305.us.archive.org. p. 219. Retrieved 17 January 2018.
- Levine, Marianne; Otterbeing, Holly; Everett, Burgess (9 January 2021). "Election gambit blows up on Hawley and Cruz". Politico. Retrieved 2 April 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Block, Melissa (16 January 2021). "Can The Forces Unleashed By Trump's Big Election Lie Be Undone?". NPR. Retrieved 3 March 2021.
Among the thousands of falsehoods Trump has uttered during his presidency, this one in particular has earned the distinction of being called the 'big lie'.
- Ben-Ghiat, Ruth (25 January 2021). "Opinion: Trump's big lie wouldn't have worked without his thousands of little lies". CNN. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
- Snyder, Timothy (9 January 2021). "The American Abyss". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
- Stelter, Brian (11 January 2021). "Experts warn that Trump's 'big lie' will outlast his presidency". CNN. Retrieved 3 March 2021.
- Castronuovo, Celine (8 January 2021). "Biden says Cruz, other Republicans responsible for 'big lie' that fueled Capitol mob". The Hill. Retrieved 10 January 2021.
- Wolfe, Jan; Heavey, Susan (25 January 2021). "Trump lawyer Giuliani faces $1.3 billion lawsuit over 'big lie' election fraud claims". Reuters. Retrieved 1 February 2021.
- Rosenberg, Matthew; Rutenberg, Jim (1 February 2021). "Key Takeaways From Trump's Effort to Overturn the Election – A Times examination of the 77 days between election and inauguration shows how a lie the former president had been grooming for years overwhelmed the Republican Party and stoked the assault on the Capitol". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 February 2021.
- "February 10, 2021 – Issue: Vol. 167, No. 25 – Daily Edition". Congressional Record. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
- Thrush, Glenn (10 February 2021). "Prosecutors describe Trump's 'Big Lie' of a stolen election". New York Times. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
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